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DOB must do better job of cracking down on illegal apts.

By Bob Harris

For decades Queens civic associations have fought to preserve their quality of life by improving the enforcement of the zoning laws. People bought their homes or rented their apartments because of the ambiance in a community. When the zoning laws are violated and large, illegal buildings are built or illegal conversions take place, then more people are added to a neighborhood zoned for fewer people.

For some time, the city Department of Buildings has been putting out articles telling how much it is doing to stop illegal apartments. The DOB puts out fliers warning people of the dangers of renting an illegal apartment. Many are firetraps for the people living in them and for firefighters who enter them and get trapped because there are no legal ways of getting out.

The DOB follows the advertisements for apartments and visits those which sound illegal. It says it is giving fines to real estate brokers, who show blatant illegal conversions. There was a recent article in TimesLedger Newspapers of a man in Elmhurst who is facing charges by the district attorney for converting four houses and three garages into illegal, single-room apartments.

On the other hand, the DOB tries to get into a house with possible illegal apartments three times and then takes it off its records. It is possible to get a court order to gain entrance, but someone has to testify to a judge that there are illegal apartments. This could lead to retribution yet there are telltale signs of multiple occupancy if inspectors look carefully.

There is a push to eliminate the right of architects to self-certify that what they build is not illegal. When a self-certifier is found to have lied, there is little if any punishment.

I have learned that the DOB prioritizes zoning complaints. It could take four or five weeks for an inspector to get to a site. Since the DOB makes money for the city through fees and fines, when they are paid, it should be able to hire more inspectors who could investigate complaints.

About 15 years ago, there was a plan to have auto racing in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, but the surrounding communities fought this idea and it never took place. Over the years, there was a plan to build a swimming pool and then an ice skating rink in Cunningham Park. The community complained and held rallies and the ideas were dropped.

Today, there are plans to build a mall and other commercial properties in the parking lot next to Citi Field, which was parkland; build a soccer stadium where the fountain is located; and take some parkland, relocate about 400 trees and rearrange the United States Tennis Association complex.

It seems that these plans to give parkland to private commercial development is going to happen in spite of complaints by surrounding communities. Today, a lame duck administration in City Hall is so business-oriented that it is permitting the loss of a large part of Flushing Meadows.

A few weeks ago, I stood on the path next to the 400 trees that would be affected. State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and a group of civic leaders spoke out against giving parkland away for private use. This terrible usurpation of a park should not take place.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: A fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas, blew up, killing 15 people and injuring hundreds.

The sad part is there had been no inspections of the plant and the open-business attitude in Texas does not want inspections for unsafe conditions.

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